Women and Church

It was actually what happened after class tonight that has been churning around in my mind and heart right now. I was chatting with two of my brothers in my seminary cohort, and we got into a discussion of how we read and interpret the Bible… and somehow, that led us into a discussion of women in church leadership… much to my dismay. I don’t enjoy talking about gender issues at seminary. I don’t like feeling like I’m out-of-place, that my gifts and calling are not welcome.

I don’t need another reason to feel like an outsider. We’re all searching for a place to belong, and I find very few places like that. In the circles I find myself in, I’m either not feminine enough, not traditional enough, or not conservative enough to be truly at home. I don’t really “fit” anywhere… and it’s painful… more painful than I can put into words.

So, this discussion about women in church leadership got started and I found myself, once again, backed into a corner with: “The Bible says that women should not teach or have authority over men. If you believe the Bible, then you have to live by what it says.” Like I’m not trying to live by what the Bible says, or I don’t believe the Bible. To be honest, I’m offended at the implications of that statement. I love my God; I love His church. They make it sound so cut and dry, but when I read the Bible; it’s not clear to me. Yes, I can’t deny that Paul makes some pretty clear statements about a woman’s role in the church. But there are other passages that set me free to speak and work as a leader and preacher. “In Christ, there is no male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free.” “Man is not independent of woman, nor is woman independent of man.” “Your sons and daughters will prophesy.” Deborah, Lydia, Mary and Martha, the Samaritan woman, the female leaders who worked alongside Paul… Jesus himself empowered women to sit with His disciples and work with them in spreading the Good News of the Kingdom. Am I only clouding things out of my own self-interest. I don’t think so. I don’t think you can look at the WHOLE of the Bible and see anything other than a mixed message on this issue.
And that’s me being honest.

What is clear to me is that in Genesis, only TOGETHER do the male and female bear the image of God. We need each other. With only men in leadership, the church is imbalanced. With only women in leadership, it is equally imbalanced. Only by working together can the church bear the image of God in the world.
Putting aside all arguments (because I know that it can go on forever), what is most concerning to me is how this situation affected the way I function and relate in our little cohort community (since this is a class on community relationships). Do I feel muzzled? Do I feel ostracized? Am I offended by their beliefs? Can I be honest with my brothers? How can we talk about things openly and with mutual respect and trust when some of them cannot validate who I am? Some would say that this is not about “who I am,” that it’s not personal. It’s about an issue. But I cannot separate the two. I am a leader, a minister, a teacher and preacher of the Word. I can’t talk about it on a different level. This will always be personal to me.

What do I want? I can’t change anyone’s mind. I can’t force people to have different beliefs than they have. Do I want us to not talk about it? No. What I want is for them to listen. I want them to not write me off as someone who has a low view of scripture, or a relative view of scripture. I want them to suspend judgment and rebuttal arguments and see me for who I am: I believe the Bible is true and authoritative. I believe in Christian submission. I also believe in egalitarian Biblical leadership. I am all of these things… but I fear that all some of them see is an opinionated, liberal feminist who calls herself a Christian.

I really wonder what Paul meant when he said, “do not allow women to teach men”? While I’m an idealist, I am also very practical… so I wonder, how does this play-out in real life? Should an accountant wife NOT TEACH her non-accountant husband about accounting? Should a female musician NOT TEACH a male non-musician? What about female doctors, lawyers, etc.? Are we really to assume that women have nothing to teach men?

I’m guessing those who take Paul at what seems like “face value” are wanting to say to me: “No way! We’re not saying that!” But, then, what are you saying? That women just can’t teach men about the Bible/faith/theology/God? But take my situation– Jon does not have a Bible college degree. He is not in seminary. He doesn’t read the books I read, doesn’t have the same theological background I have— don’t I have something to teach him? Why can’t he learn from me and I from him? Would it really be God’s will for me to keep quiet when I have something to share?

Of course, perhaps he is only saying “in formal church situations, women should not teach men”… but that presents a whole other set of confusing issues… If I can “teach” my husband at home, why can’t I at church? Are we not “the church” in our homes just as much as we are in a building? If I have something of value in Christ to bring to my seminary setting, my women’s group setting, my stay-at-home mom setting; why can’t I bring that into the church building, to my brothers?

But, still, there’s Paul…


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Anna
    Mar 05, 2008 @ 17:20:34

    Paul is a tough one, but the problem with taking his words as absolute is that we are reading only one side of a conversation in his letters. (You know more about the details than I.) I take Paul’s words and test them against Jesus’s teachings. If they don’t pass, I don’t worry about them as much.


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